By David Hunter
Welcome to the very first edition of this race, one that we have actually seen before but in a different guise. We used to have the Dubai Tour, which was one for the sprinters, and the Abu Dhabi Tour, which had some sprint stages and a mountain stage. These two races have now been merged together and we have the UAE Tour. It has a mix of sprints, mountains and even an early season TTT to get you excited.
The race opens with a 16.2km TTT. It’s not overly long, so we shouldn’t see big gaps between the leaders.
The first of the sprint stages. We have a glittering line up at the race: Bauhaus, Bennett, Mareczko, Viviani, Modolo, Sarreau, Ewan, Mezgec, Cavendish, Kittel, Halvorsen, Walscheid, Moschetti, Kristoff and Gaviria. The sprint stages are going to be very exciting.
We head to the mountains, well, the mountain. The climb is 9.2km at 7% and one that we’ve seen many times before. As it is on wide roads, the climb is a little easier than the figures suggest. This result will shape the GC for the rest of the week, I wonder if this will be Valverde’s first win in the rainbow jersey.
The popular finish at the Hatta Dam. Another stage that is well known to the riders and the fans. We all love the final ramp of 20% and the pain it brings the peloton!
Another sprint stage for the quick men. We do have a little kicker near the end, but it shouldn’t be enough to drop any of the sprinters.
The second mountain of the week and a new one for me. Jebel Jais is 20.7km at 6%, that is quite a significant challenge at this point of the season.
For the final stage, we head back to Dubai for a big sprint finale.
Alejandro Valverde – has he been cursed? Bala would normally have won a race by now. Since returning from his drugs ban in 2012, he’s always won a race before this point of the year. Of course, this is far too early in the season for talk of a crisis, especially as he’s been very close to winning this season. Last year he comfortably won this race, but the addition of the TTT could worry him a little, but the presence of a second mountaintop finish is good news for him. Movistar don’t arrive with a particularly strong team, but they should have enough to control the mountain stages, especially as both of them only have one climb. If Valverde doesn’t take a win, the whispers will get a little louder!
Gorka Izagirre – started the season off with a win in Provence, a great way to begin his time at Astana. Astana won’t enjoy the TTT, putting Izagirre into stage hunting mode. Given his sprint finish, he could take one of the mountain stages.
Vincenzo Nibali – can he perform outside of a grand tour? No.
Davide Formolo – 2018 was okay for the Italian, but he’s still not fulfilling his potential. He was earmarked as one of the future stars of the sport, but he’s not been able to make that final step. He has the ability required to win races, but he lacks something the others have. He’s beginning to look like a top 10 rider, not a winner.
Primož Roglič – one of my favourite riders on the planet. 2018 was a spectacular year for him, he is easily one of the best stage racers in the peloton. The Jumbo boys arrive with a strong team who will be expecting a big result in the TTT, to set up a crack at the GC for Roglič. As this is his first race of the year, he could be a little behind some of his rivals. This race won’t be one of his big targets, but he’ll still want to do well.
Ilnur Zakarin – look up to Nibali!
Team Sky – the Sky boys arrive with Kwiatkowski and Moscon as leaders. After being kicked out of the Tour, harshly in my opinion, the Italian was outstanding in the closing stages of the season. As both mountain stages only feature one climb, he should be able to compete with the pure climbers, something he isn’t. Kwiatkowski enjoyed a fantastic 2018, he’ll be keen to start 2019 with a solid result. His fast finish makes him a favourite for the mountain stages and I’m eager to see what he can do on the Hatta Dam. Sky have two strong options for the overall.
Team Sunweb – another team with two strong options: Dumoulin and Kelderman. Last year we saw Dumoulin riding as a domestique for Kelderman, who finished 2nd in Abu Dhabi. Sunweb arrive with a powerful looking squad, they will expect a big performance in the TTT. If they get a gap on their rivals, it will be hard to stop them from winning the GC.
Richie Porte – won another Willunga stage, but just failed to win another TDU crown. He followed that up with 5th in the Sun Tour, where he had a disagreement with Michael Woods, but was also recovering from illness. I’m not sure what to expect from him in this race, looking at the Trek squad, they are bound to lose time in the TTT, making it difficult for Porte to challenge for the overall. Both mountain stages don’t look tough enough for Richie to put his rivals to the sword.
UAE – it’s their home race and the pressure is on. They have Dan Martin, Rui Costa and Diego Ulissi to challenge for victory, but they look vulnerable in the TTT. Both mountain stages do look good for the Irishman, he should be able to challenge for wins, but taking the overall will be complicated. Will the sponsors be happy with stage wins?
After the TTT, I would expect to see Dumoulin, Kelderman and Roglič with an advantage over the rest of the GC contenders. Gaps will be small on the Hatta Dam, meaning the two mountain stages and potential bonus seconds will come into play. There could also be some echelons during the week, which could end the hopes of some. As they have two options, I think Sunweb are in the best position and I think Wilco Kelderman will take home the trophy.
Remember I’ve now got a podcast too. Go and give it a listen
Follow us on @CiclismoInter
Join us on facebook: Ciclismo Internacional
Copyright © 2012-2019 Ciclismo Internacional. All Rights Reserved